Preakness Stakes: all you need to know as Swiss Skydiver triumphs in an epic battle of Baltimore

By Nicholas Godfrey

So you know the filly Swiss Skydiver got the better of Kentucky Derby winner Authentic after a stretch-long battle for the rescheduled Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday. You’ve probably seen the race – if not, have a look here, it’s a classic – but here’s some other stuff you might like to know.

What’s going on?

Breeders’ Cup-bound with Distaff favoured option

Although the Preakness is a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, trainer Kenny McPeek said he was leaning towards the Distaff, for which she is already qualified. However, he has been known to throw the dice.

“Oh, wow, that’s a good question,” said the trainer. “We can look at both races, I suppose. We got in for the Distaff after the Alabama, but I would say right now we would probably lean towards the older fillies and mares. 

“But nothing’s set in stone and we don’t have to make a decision today, I don’t think.”

Horse Racing Swiss Skydiver Authentic Preakness Stakes Pimlico
Swiss Skydiver (right) digs deep to beat Authentic in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Girl beats the boys

Swiss Skydiver was the sixth filly to win the Preakness in 145 runnings, and the first since Rachel Alexandra in 2009. A total of 55 fillies have run in the race.

With three each in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, she becomes the 12th filly to have won a Triple Crown race. Among them is Ruthless, who won the very first Triple Crown race, the 1867 Belmont.

US Triple Crown races 2020: the winners

Belmont Stakes (1m1f, Belmont Park) June 20. Winner: Tiz The Law

Kentucky Derby (1m2f, Churchill Downs) September 5. Winner: Authentic

Preakness Stakes (1m1½f, Pimlico) October 3. Winner: Swiss Skydiver

Second-fastest in history

Swiss Skydiver, who won by a neck, stopped the clock in 1m53.28 – the second-fastest time in Preakness history, bettered only by Secretariat’s 1m53s dead in 1973.

However, don’t forget the race was run four and a half months later than usual, meaning the horses involved were more mature. As a filly, the winner was also getting a 3lb weight break from her male rivals.

Authentic needed the lead says Baffert

Bob Baffert suggested he feared the worst when Kentucky Derby winner Authentic was unable to get the lead – though ironically the horse that denied him a clear passage up front was his own stablemate Thousand Words.

“We had to get the lead,” said Baffert. “He runs better on the lead. He likes to be out there running fast. When I saw 24 [seconds] that’s really slow for him. That’s how he won the Derby, get him running. But he said when he went to pick it up he didn’t have it today. That’s why I like to come back in two weeks.”

Racing’s entertainer: nine runs at nine different tracks

Swiss Skydiver has been nothing if not busy in 2020, when she started off in January at Tampa Bay, finishing only fifth in a minor black-type stakes before coming third at Fair Grounds a month later.

She hasn’t been out of the first two since, winning five, all of them graded stakes, at Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Santa Anita, Saratoga and now Pimlico.

“I’ve only made one mistake,” grinned McPeek, 58. “I didn’t run her in April. I run her January, February, March, May, June, July, August, September, October. I mean she’s hickory. I mean anybody that says that she hasn’t entertained this country this year any more than any other horse, I mean they weren’t watching because she was doing it everywhere.”

Second Classic for McPeek and Albarado

Swiss Skydiver is McPeek’s second winner of a Triple Crown race after 70-1 longshot Sarava’s Belmont in 2002.

Jockey Robby Albarado’s only previous Classic win came in the 2007 Preakness on subsequent dual horse of the year Curlin. He was a late call-up for Swiss Skydiver whose participation wasn’t confirmed until the week before the race.

The 47-year-old, whose career has been on the wane in recent years, drew much praise for a bold early move challenging on Authentic’s inside as they entered the far turn – a “genius move” according to trainer Kenny McPeek.

Horse Racing Robby Albarado Swiss Skydiver Preakness Stakes Pimlico
Robby Albarado with the Preakness Stakes trophy after victory on Swiss Skydiver. Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

The name game

Two months after trainer Kenny McPeek paid $35,000 for the Preakness winner at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale, owner Peter Callahan received a video showing his 20-year-old granddaughter Callie Rasnake making a parachute jump over the Swiss Alps.

Callie, who did the jump in tandem with an instructor, was studying in Europe at the time. Who better to name a daughter of Daredevil after than the owner’s very own Swiss skydiver?

As for that stallion, Daredevil now stands in Turkey, having been purchased in November from WinStar by the Turkish Jockey Club.

‘Maryland My Maryland’ no more

With Baltimore legislators moving to remove ‘Maryland, My Maryland’s status as state hymn, the traditional Preakness song was ditched for 2020 owing to its Civil War sympathies – problematic to say the least amid worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations and civil unrest in the States following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Instead, three-time Grammy Award-winning rapper, songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean was among those providing the musical accompaniment at Pimlico. Not that there was any crowd there for a sing-song anyway.

Shall we talk about it?

Kenny McPeek (Swiss Skydiver’s trainer): “This is just a real honour to be around a horse like this. This is a special moment. It was a genius move by Robby coming up the fence. He saw a hole and went right at it. It felt like she took him there. If he waited, she would take him there.
“I think she should have won the Oaks too. Maybe if we stay inside, we win that one too, but it is what it is. She’s just really neat to be around. Robby and I have had a great week.
“We’ve been getting on her, walking her together, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together. This is a lifetime experience for both of us and we hope we’re back.”

Horse Racing Kenny McPeek Robby Albarado Swiss Skydiver Preakness Stakes
Trainer Kenny McPeek alongside Preakness Stakes winner Swiss Skydiver and Robby Albarado. Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Robby Albarado (Swiss Skydiver’s jockey): “I had an opportunity, a split second, to take advantage of the rail because Johnny was sitting off the fence there. I made a conscious decision on the backside. ‘It’s give or take now. Do I make that move now or do I wait to see if they come back to me?’
She was determined to be in front of him and wasn’t letting him pass. She has a heart of gold. A true champion, yes.”

Bob Baffert (Authentic’s trainer): “I was hoping he was on the lead. But he got beat. He had the whole stretch to get by her. She ran a gallant race. He’s a free-running horse and likes to be on the lead. I saw he wasn’t on the lead and was struggling a little bit.
“I thought I was going to be on the lead. [Jockey John Velazquez] said that it didn’t work out and he was rating him today. He doesn’t like rating. He wants to go fast.
“That’s a good filly. He had every chance to get by her. He got beat. He just couldn’t get by her. She dug in. She’s tough.”

John Velazquez (Authentic’s jockey): “We had a good start, no trouble at all. In the first turn we got by Art Collector. By the backstretch, I tried to open up, but he just stood there and Swiss Skydiver came to him. I tried to get him rolling again, but he just stayed with that other horse from the half-mile pole to the wire.”

Jose D’Angelo (Jesus’ Team’s trainer): “I feel very excited and I’m proud of my team and their work with Jesus’ Team. I am very sure that he is going to be a great horse in the United States. I’m very happy for the result in this race, the Preakness Stakes, one of the most important races for three-year-olds in this amazing country. I don’t know really what our next race will be, but maybe the Breeders’ Cup, maybe go to Florida to prepare him for the Pegasus.”

Tommy Drury (Art Collector’s trainer): “I thought he ran fine. He didn’t break quite as sharp as we hoped he would and that kind of had us playing catch-up a little bit. He was kind of in tight and it wasn’t the best trip; it’s not the trip we were hoping for. But we’ve got no excuse. The winner ran huge and we had our shot to get to them and just couldn’t do it.”

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